MUSIC: Roger Daltrey’s massive career arc

The Who occupy an odd position near the summit of the Rock pantheon, having evolved into a multi-threat artistic powerhouse … which can still occasionally revert to something close to its roots, and sonically punch your teeth in.

Seriously. Roger Daltrey, who led a full-concert performance of the band’s classic Tommy at Rexall Place on Sunday- where the best part of the show came after the rock opera was polished off faithfully – used to beat up his bandmates. It was that kind of band. When he was ticked off over something, he would typically knock the offending bandmate out. It was violent, angry, and not at all unlike their early music.

At this point, in the early 60s, he’d eschewed higher education despite being a local whizkid and instead dropped out of school to become a counterculture hero. Basically. In fact, he was fronting The Who and punching sheet metal at the same time as he was punching Pete Townshend for any minor offence.

After getting some attention from serious management, the band tossed Daltrey out. (He allegedly punched out Keith Moon for hooking up Townshend and John Entwistle with pills). He decided being a violent yob was less important than using a band to express his middle-class English rage, and came back contritely and apologized.

That lesson in humility was the beginning of an interesting career arc; they started playing three- and four-chord rock, and the same angry tension from being culturally disenfranchised led to My Generation, which hit the charts big at a time when bands were at their biggest. The Who were third in the Sixties pantheon, really, to only The Beatles and The Rolling Stones.

Within a couple of years, Pete Townshend’s writing had started to take a fuller perspective, and classic theme albums Quadrophenia and Tommy followed, along with films/rock operas of the same name. Nothing they’ve done since, really, has been small-scale. The duo’s last tour – bassist John Entwistle died in 2002 – used 14 musicians to support the album Endless Wire, which was then adapted into a musical. Townshend’s composed all sorts of material for film and stage, while Daltrey’s carved out a healthy acting career.

From angry to artists, in four interesting decades.  Researcher Anders Ericsson and author Malcolm Gladwell have noted the Beatles likely put in 10,000 hours of work to become successful and found it to be common for successful people to have that focussed a work ethic in one field, terming them “Outliers.”

The Who might’ve been just as valid an example as the boys from Liverpool: they went from working in a factory, punching each other while screaming about their angry and wasted youth, to fronting a few dozen musicians in an operatic world tour.

“It became a stage show. But what I’m gonna try to do – I’ve got a couple or two or three years left, I don’t know how long I’ve got to be able to sing this – and I want to make the most of it,” said Daltrey in an interview about the Tommy tour.  (Check out the rest of the half-hour interview below.)